How to plan a backpacking trip

The thought about how to plan a backpacking trip can just be overwhelming at first sight. When planning a multiday backpacking trip you need to think about a lot of stuff.

So with a lot of other things in life, planning is the first step.

This is a step by step guide to plan your backpacking trip. Some steps involve the answer on other ones. Like e.g. when to go and where you like to go. Where you like to go, and how long you want to go, etc.

Take a piece of paper, or open a document on your computer and start to make notes. Every answer will bring you step by step closer to your perfect backpacking trip.

How to plan a backpacking trip - step by step

1) When - choose a date/season

The first step will be to decide when you want or can go on your trip.
Because if you know when to go, you can decide where to go. Is it spring time, summer, autumn or maybe even winter?
There will be some parts of this world where you most likely won’t go on a backpacking trip in winter or early spring because there will possibly be a lot of snow or bad weather.
In summertime you might leave out some trails where it will be boiling hot and dry, no water sources around.

So whenever you know when you want to go, you can continue to plan anything else.

2) How long

For how long can you go?

Some trails are easy to just “cut” into smaller pieces so you can individually plan any lenght of trip. Other trails are of certain lenght, and not too easy to cut short.

If you are a total beginner you might also want to choose a shorter trail/trip as your first one. Plan a weekend hike with 1-2 or 3 nights on the trail before you go on a 2 week backpacking trip. This way you can test your gear, check out how much weight you can carry comfortably and see how much food you need on a day.

3) Choose type of trail

Next step would be to choose a trail. 

  1. Think about how long you can go. Like how many miles/KM´s you can make on a day.
  2. The difficulty of a trail. Easy flat terrain, or a more difficult terrain with rocks and mountains.
  3. What do you want to see: Mountains, lakes, rivers, forest, waterfalls,
  4. You want to walk in solitude or you like to meet a lot of people during your trip.

When you know all of this read up on trails and check the descriptions. Maybe you’ll find a trail that fits all your wishes, maybe you need to change 1 or 2 things to get the right trail for you.

4) Plan your route

  • Planning every stage of your route is especially helpful if:
  • you only have a certain amount of time
  • you might be in a national park where wild camping is forbidden and you want or need to sleep on campsites/ huts/ motels/ hostels
  • or to know where you can hop on a train or bus at the end of your trip
  • restocking for food
  • to know where you can refill water

You can either plan on a paper map, or use helpful hiking apps or tools online.

To plan your route is especially helpful if you are not advanced yet in how many KM/miles you can easily make a day. You might want to keep the first days a little shorter to get to know your backpack, how your feet and body reacts and how fit or unfit you feel.

We do recommend to keep the first days shorter, maybe even plan a rest day at a lake, and then you will feel if you can push for longer hiking days after a while.

Also in Europe most places don’t allow wild camping anymore (too many visitors) and you need to find camping spots or hostels. You will also find a lot of Pilgrim Paths that are well organized with Hostels and Food Resupply along the way. So you can easily plan your dayhike and let it end somewhere you can sleep.
While in Northern America you will find more trails where you need to go wild camping or camp on camping sites in the middle of the woods.

The best seasons to enjoy the mountains are summer and autumn.

5) Do you need a permit?

Check if you might need a permit for the chosen destination. For some national parks you need a permit. Sometimes you even need to get a permit a couple months in advance (some only do a lottery 4-5 months in advance) if a trail is just too popular and they limit the number of visitors per year.

6) Local hazards?

Are there any local hazards to be aware about? Snakes, bears, lyme deasease (ticks), poison ivy, etc.

If you know you can prepare. Get medications, emergency contacts, bear cans, etc.

In bear country you might want to bring bear spray and you will need to pack all your food (or scented items) into a bear proof container or bag.

If you are unsure, call the ranger station/national park office and ask.

7) How do you get there?

How are you getting to the starting point? By Train, Bus, Plane, Car?
Do you need any tickets? Sometimes it will be cheaper to buy tickets a couple weeks or months in advance.

8) What kind of gear do you need?

If you have been on a backpacking trip before you might just have everything you need already.If not you might want a list what you need to know what you still need to buy or organize:

You are unsure if backpacking is something you like to do more often? Or buying all the things you need for the trip is too expensive at the moment? Ask around if friends and family might have some gear you can borrow. Or find some second hand shops for outdoor gear, even ask in hiking groups. Bigger Outdoor brands (I know REI has it) now sometimes even have a used gear section.

9) Test your gear and get in shape

Before you start your adventure, make sure you know how everything works. The water filter, the gas cooker, how to set up your tent, etc.

Camp in your or your familys garden or go on a one night camping trip so you can test if you know how to use everything and if you maybe need something else. Or you might just find out that you need to pack your backpack in a different way.

And if you are not already walking and hiking or running regularly, start now. Train yourself. Walk everywhere, plan day hikes, get in shape for your Adventure. The better your in shape, the more you can enjoy your trip.

Quinoa Salad and Bread
Homemade energy-balls

10) Food Planning

For a lot of people, the thing with food planning for a backpacking trip is holding them back.
Not knowing how much you need, how much weight it will be to carry, etc. You want to eat well but it should also be easy to make and easy to carry.

You can choose between selfmade food packets, even selfmade dehydrated food or dehydrated sachet food. You will find a variety of vegan backpacking food in sachets too.
Remember though, you need to pack out all the empty sachets though and maybe try and find a place where you can recycle them.

Check the posibility of restock food while on trail. Are there any towns you`ll pass, or is there no possibility at all to restock food while you are on your trip? If there is no restocking available you need to carry more food, so keep that in mind when planning your trip.

(Check out our favorite hiking snacks here! And how to make coffee while camping.)

(More tips on how to plan food rations for a backpacking trip coming soon)

11) Water availability

This is one of the most important tasks. Make sure to know if there are any refill stations along the trail. If you need to use wild water sources check where there are any springs, lakes, rivers. (Don’t forget your water filter system) And check if there is wild water in summer or if it might be dried out…

If you can’t find reliable answers, call or Email the office or ranger station of the national park and ask.

Check our blog post about how much water you need to carry on a Dayhike.

12) Know the leave no trace principles

Leave No Traceis a guidance on how to enjoy the Outdoors by reducing your impact on those plces you visit and enjoy. Wheather it is taking a bath, pooping outdoors, making fire, etc. Many task can have  great negative impact on the environment.
And if you like to protect what you love, you should read and remember the Leave No Trace Principles before hitting the trail.

13) Get a good map

Getting lost is probably NOT your plan for the next backpacking trip. So always make sure to have a good map for the area with you. Be it a GPS on an electric device (make sure to have a power bank with you) or a paper map. If you choose a paper map, make sure to know how to use it.

If they are not already on the map, you could also mark the camping sites, grocery stores or water stations.

14) Let your family and friends know where you are going

Already important when going on day hikes in areas where you might not see a lot of people. When backpacking, tell them your exact intinerary.

Tell them where you are going, when you are planning to start and when you will be finished. When you are on a longer Trip, and you feel safer this way, maybe make set appointments to at least send a message every other day, so then your family knows if they don’t hear from you, and they can’t reach you, there might be something wrong and they can get help.

15) Check the weather

So before you head off. Check the weather. You don’t want to drive for hours and then experience the trail is closed because of a bad weather warning.

It is also important to know the weather for the next days to know exactly what to bring for clothing and gear.

16) Solo hiking or not?

So then there is the question: Solo Hiking or not?

If you don’t like to go solo hiking, ask around maybe you do have friends, family or a partner that likes to join you.
If you don’t have friends around who like or can join you, you could check out hiking groups, and mybe you can find someone where you feel a connection to, and can make new friends by going on an adventure together.

But maybe you don’t have someone to join you, or maybe you really like to do this on your own?
Solo hiking can be amazing if you really want it or if you are just open to try. You can go at your own pace, you can finally hear your own thoughts and because you don’t talk you might even see much more wildlife too.

 Just be a little bit more careful whe you pass any kind of dangerous terrain. Make sure people know where you are. If you go on a backpacking trip in a nationak park, maybe check in with the ranger station before you leave, let them know you are there. You could also give your family contacts from stations or farms you’ll pass on your trip. In any case they won’t hear from you, they can calculate where you might be and call the people around to get help.

If you feel uncomfortable wild-camping on your own when backpacking, look out for camping site on the trail you can reach for the night.

More Tips: How to start Solo Adventuring.

Arizona hiking
Enjoying the view and the silence in Arizona

We hope this blog post can help you planning your first backpacking trip more easily. Do you miss any informations? Let us know.

Tell us in the comments:
Have you been on a backpacking trip yet? What did you like, and what was your biggest struggle?
If you haven’t been but want to: what’s the thing that holds you back?

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